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Microsoft Monday: Today’s Google Free Alternative
As part of our Google Free Mondays series this month, today is the day to try Microsoft’s Windows Live. Wait, wasn’t it Google Free Fridays this month? Yes, but I changed it to Mondays. And why do we hate Google so much we’re telling people not to use it? We don’t hate Google, silly. My past post explains the intent of the series more. The short scoop is that trying alternatives is good, because there might be something better out there or you might want to be reassured you’re already making the correct choice.
Below, a guide to Live.com. Similar to the previous AOL search guide and Ask.com search guide, there is some light comparison to Google. This is not meant at a definitive look at strengths and weaknesses but instead to give you a feel on how the two differ.
As I explained about Ask.com, Microsoft’s Live has its own crawler and ranking system, which means it has a unique search “voice” that’s different than Google’s. You won’t get exactly the same results as you’ll get at Google, which could mean that if Google fails to find what you’re looking for, Live’s might come through because of its different take on the web.
When covering Ask, I also explained how its ranking system was called ExpertRank, as opposed to PageRank at Google (which technically is just part of Google’s overall and unnamed ranking system). Live calls its system RankNet. Well, it called it that back in June 2005 and hasn’t done much since to popularize the name. The system is designed to be trained with a small set of “good” results and use that as a model to do ranking in general.
Want to know more? Here are some papers (all in PDF format) about it:
- Learning to Rank using Gradient Descent, August 2005 (and try Greg Linden’s “plain English” explanation of this paper)
- Beyond PageRank: Machine Learning for Static Ranking, May 2006
- Enhancing Single-document Summarization by Combining RankNet and Third-party Sources, June 2007
Again, Live has its own image database from crawling the web that gives it a different collection than what Google has. To reach it, use the “Images” link at Live Search. Aside from its own database, Live has one of the nicest image search interfaces you’ll find. Hover over an image, and it gets slightly larger plus provides info such as the file name, dimensions and URL. Click on the “add to scratchpad” link when hovering over an image, and a copy slides over into a new “Scratchpad” window that opens up on the right-hand side of your screen. You can then drag-and-drop other images of interest. A slider also lets you see many images at the same time shown in very small thumbnails moving up toward a few images in larger thumbnails. You can also filter images to small, medium, large and “desktop” size, in case you’re looking for wallpaper that matches your desktop. Finally, image search has “infinite scroll,” which means as you scroll down, more image results magically appear.
You can have a pass on using Live news search over Google. That’s because it doesn’t seem to hit as many sources as Google but rather sticks with large, mainstream media. In addition, it annoyingly for me insists on showing only UK news sources. OK, I’m in the UK, but I’m searching on Live.com — and this happens even when I specifically use the Options link to tell it I’m in San Francisco.
Local & Maps
Formerly called Virtual Earth, Windows Live Local provides unique 45 degree “Bird’s Eye Views” of select areas that let you see buildings and locations not from typical looking straight down aerial view but instead often glorious, detailed side views. And while Google may have recently made it easier to annotate and customize maps, Windows Live has long offered easy to use capabilities like this. See these posts (I, II, III) from the Windows Live blog that go into lots of examples of what you can do. And yes, you can search for local businesses, too.
- Academic Search: Use the More button, then select Academic, and you can search against scholarly material that Microsoft collects through partnerships with publishers.
- Feed Search: Again, use the More button, then select Feeds to search through web feed content that Microsoft has collected. Sorry, I don’t have more information at the moment on how they pull this in (the help files are useless here, nor do I recall any formal announcements or explanation of what’s powering feed search).
- Book Search: Yes, Microsoft has book search, not that you can find it on the Live Search tabs. Instead, go here (Firefox users need not apply; it’s IE only, from what I can tell). You can search against in copyright books gathered in cooperation with publishers, as well as out-of-copyright books.
- Video Search: Again, you have to know where to look to try this: go here. Now you can get matches that are powered by AOL-owned Truveo. Looking for a more programmed area. Try MSN Video or the beta version of MSN Video’s future look, also known as MSN Soapbox.
- Product Search: Yet another mystery search property, only around if you know where to look. Go here. Now you can search for products from across the web.
- Live QnA Answer Search: That’s right, still more hidden search options. Live QnA is Microsoft’s challenge to the powerful Yahoo Answers service, where people ask questions and get answers back from others in the community there.
- Live Search Mobile: You can access Live Search Mobile in a variety of ways, but I often use the downloadable application for my Windows Mobile Phone. Here’s an update on what Microsoft is providing in the mobile space.
Have fun searching with Microsoft today!